Day 4: Out of the Garden State and into free ice cream

New Jersey: Lawrenceville, Trenton; Pennsylvania: Penn Valley, Levittown, Bristol, Croydon, Philadelphia
I got another late start this morning after sleeping like a log after a long yesterday in the saddle. I had granola with berries and coffee with Metta, and was out the door by 10am.

Such a chilly morning! Jersey was getting temperatures in the lower 50s today, which is my lower limit in terms of ideal riding weather. It would have been ok but the wind was fierce today and coming out of the south, smacking me right in the face. All the panniers act as sails in wind, so I was grinding the cranks pretty hard all day. Good job it was only a 40 mile day – I’m not nearly as tired tonight as I was yesterday.

Trenton was the first city I rolled into after coming out of Lawrenceville, and it had been built up notoriously quite a bit. Three different people yesterday warned me about Trenton, and Metta referred to it as a “shithole”. Derelict buildings, streets covered in trash, and not many people around. It kind of reminded me of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine in the 1990s.

Despite insistent warnings, I wasn’t concerned. I don’t really get nervous in rundown places. I figure no one will bother me because I’m not looking for drugs or prostitutes. It certainly didn’t look like a great place though… Plus Chris Christie works there…

I made it through the city unscathed (of course… Like I said, I’m not looking for trouble) and made it to a bridge that didn’t want me to ride my bike across it. Well, I rode across it. No reason not to. Touring equals victimless mischief sometimes, and that’s part of the fun. 

The bridge took me into Pennsylvania, even though I didn’t realize it till later. I enjoyed my time in New Jersey. It’s a state that has a particular characterization in pop culture, and my first notable time in the state kind of confirms some stereotypes. Granted, my experience was limited, but still.

But you know what Pennsylvania means? Wawa! I have an inexplicable adoration for this Philly convenient store chain, which started when I came to Philly on a spring break trip once. I can’t explain it… It’s like a UDF with food, they all seem really well taken care of, and you can order your stuff with a touchscreen computer. Wawa for life.

I stopped at the first one I saw to get some food and the bike was definitely noticed by fellow customers. A few started talking to me, asking the usual questions, with the same flabbergasted responses to my answers. I think these conversations are fun, even if they are predictable. What I like is to see if I can detect any regionality to the responses, which makes it more compelling for me. The girl at the counter, a high schooler, was blown away by what I’m doing. I think she was more surprised I rode through Trenton than that I’m riding to Oregon. I told her she could follow this blog if she wanted, but she said she had school. I laughed at the ridiculousness of this response.

After Wawa I made it back on the Raritan Canal Towpath for a short bit before taking US-13 south. It was a much nicer stretch than what I was on yesterday.

I took US-13 pretty much into the outskirts of Philadelphia. It was a pretty rundown bit of road, but I wasn’t complaining too much because I had a shoulder to ride on. These are always ideal, but especially today after my helmet was stolen yesterday.

A nice reminder for my speedier and heavier fellow road users. 

“Street Road” is an actual thing. 

There were bike paths that took me into the city, which was nice. I passed a lot of worn down, crowded neighborhoods, and I couldn’t help but think of the last good M. Night Shyamalan movie, “Unbreakable”. Haven’t seen that in a long time. 

I passed the “Philadelphia Prison System Training Academy”, which was sufficiently formidable:

My first glimpse of the skyline was a satisfying moment. I felt proud to have made it here after leaving another East Coast skyline just yesterday.

I was about ten minutes away from the hostel for the night when I passed a bunch of blue and white balloons outside a building in a neighborhood I later learned was Fishtown, and I heard a guy yell “free ice cream!” I did a double take. I asked if he was serious, and he said yes. I hit the brakes and pulled in.

Turns out an ice cream joint called The Igloo was having a grand opening and celebrating with free ice cream all day. I was wide eyed and salivating. I got the goods, and told the owner, Zac, how much he made my day. We got a picture:

I passed some of Sheperd Fairey’s handiwork:

And then off to the hostel. Upon checking in and getting a rundown of the rules (no drinks in the rooms, even water) and the “social” stuff (happy hour 8-9 every day, trivia day, game day, etc) I immediately had the gut feeling that this will not be my favorite place to stay on tour. Maybe I’m too old. Maybe I’m a square. But I’m not crazy about typing my name as an electronic signature saying I acknowledge the rules for a place that won’t even let me keep my bike worth thousands of dollars in the basement (it’s locked up right in front of the entrance and I took off my dear Brooks saddle for the night). I didn’t get into this so I could follow rules. I got into it, in part at least, to be free of them. But, it’s actually a nice hostel, as hostels go, and far cheaper than a hotel in this city. I’ll be gone after tomorrow anyway.

So then it was time to get a new helmet after mine was stolen yesterday. I reached out to another tourist I met online, Kate, who will start her own cross country tour in a month and lives in the city. She directed me toward Trophy Bikes not far from the hostel, and I was able to get another Giro Reverb, a helmet I love and the same I had until yesterday. It’s good and ugly. Bike helmets are inherently ugly, though obviously necessary. That being the case I figure go big or go home. This new one takes the cake in the ugly department:

The guys at Trophy were also able to secure my USB charger to my dynohub in a way better than I’ve been able to, and they did it for free. Good shop.

I went back to the hostel and rested before heading out for dinner. This being Philadelphia, that means cheesesteaks. Turns out one of the best, Sonny’s, is a hop skip and a jump from the hostel. I love that it’s a worn-in place that’s been there forever.

 I got myself a cheesesteak with thin sliced ribeye, American, provolone, and bacon, and the reputation is deserved. It was beyond delicious, especially considering I hadn’t eaten too much today.

Back at the hostel I just hung out and decompressed. I chatted a bit with the staff and others staying here and turned in early. That’s the way things are going to be for a while. Always tired at the end of the day with legs stiff and on fire. I’m just fine with that. 

Tomorrow is going to be all about checking out Philadelphia!



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